Matthew 15: What Is Clean and Unclean?

New Testament: Student Study guide, (2003), 23–24


The traditions of the elders, discussed earlier, was a system of complicated additions to the law of Moses that Jewish leaders developed over the years. Although the leaders’ intentions were good, these additions eventually became more important to the Jews than the law itself—certainly more important than the spirit of the law. One of these additions to the law involved ceremonial washings before eating a meal. It was not simply washing for health reasons, but there were specific ways to wash determined by Jewish leaders. When the disciples of Jesus were accused of breaking this tradition of the elders, Jesus used it as a teaching opportunity. As you read, look for what Jesus said were the true principles the Jews had missed by concentrating on their traditions. Look for other miracles Jesus performed as you read Matthew 15.

Understanding the Scriptures

Matthew 15

Whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me (v. 5)Whatever I might have given to you 
Hypocrites (v. 7)People who do not have righteous desires but want others to think they are righteous 
Nigh (v. 8)Near 
Vain (v. 9)For no worthwhile purpose 
Doctrines (v. 9)Spiritual truths 
Defileth (vv. 11, 18, 20)To make sinful or unclean 
Draught (v. 17)Sewer, a place to dispose of waste 
Grievously vexed (v. 22)Very troubled 
Besought (v. 23)Begged 
Maimed (vv. 30–31)Having a handicap that disables the arms or legs 

Matthew 15:4–6—“It Is a Gift”

See corban in “Understanding the Scriptures” for Mark 7:9–12 (p. 45).

Matthew 15:22–28—Why Did Jesus Refer to a Canaanite Woman As a Dog?

The Greek word that was translated here as “dogs” might better be translated as “little dogs,” referring to household dogs, or pets beloved of their owners. At the time of His ministry, Jesus had come to focus on the children of the household—the Israelites—and thus compared the Gentile woman to a pet in the household. Exercising her faith in the Lord, the woman built on Jesus’ symbolic reference when she said it would only be right that the household pet “eat of the crumbs” that fall from the meal given to the children of the house.

Studying the Scriptures

Do activity A as you study Matthew 15.

Activity A iconExplain Key Words and Phrases

Briefly explain what each of the following words or phrases had to do with the events in Matthew 15:

  1. 1.

    “Tradition of the elders” (see vv. 2–9)

  2. 2.

    Defile, or defileth (see vv. 2–20)

  3. 3.

    Lips, heart, and mouth (see vv. 7–11, 17–20)

  4. 4.

    Dogs (see vv. 22–28)

  5. 5.

    Compassion (see vv. 32–39)

  6. 6.

    Loaves and fishes (see vv. 32–39)